Thursday, January 22, 2009

A heapin' helpin' of self help

Wow. Today is the first day I have felt something approximating "normal" for a few weeks (possibly even months?) now. A few days of happy companionship, a good night's sleep after weeks of insomnia - yes, I finally admitted out loud to an audience that my name is Kelly and I am an insomniac - and the sun is finally breaking through the grey clouds. I don't know whether to celebrate this fact (and risk scaring it away - my moods are flighty like that) or try and trick my brain into thinking this is my normal state by acknowledging it, but not making a big deal of it.

It's such a relief to feel this way again.

I read a description of the difference between pessimists and optimists yesterday that made me stop and think:

"All of us interpret the world around us, and we tend toward seeing the world, and our life, in largely positive or negative terms. Three critical factors determine whether we take an optimistic or pessimistic view of the world: permanence, pervasiveness, and personalisation.

On permanence: Pessimists see the good things in life as being transitory, and believe that the bad things are here to stay. Optimists are the exact opposite. They see the bad things as being temporary and the good things as having more permanence."

I have always considered myself a committed pessimist, thanks in part to my Dad - the cynic's cynic - who I worshipped throughout my developmental years, like all daughters worship their fathers. However, I have come to realise that this state of mind makes me unhappy, no matter how cool I thought it was to appear world-weary and a bit sneery in high school.

The above statement really made me stop and question the way I look at my life - throughout which, I have to admit, I have always seen the happy periods as a transient respite from what I believe to be the more permanent, entrenched, core feelings of dissatisfaction and sadness. I am coming to an understanding that it is this belief that is part of the problem, possibly more so than the feelings themselves.

That simple sentence made me question my way of thinking and consider the possibility that those dark periods are the transient state in an otherwise normal, happy life. If I dig down a little deeper, I think it is because I experience those feelings so differently - happiness feels like a fleeting bubbly feeling in my chest and throat - like the fizz in champagne - whereas the sadness sits in my stomach and radiates to my extremities in miserable waves. Somehow, sadness feels more real to me. How strange.

Which brings me to:

"Personalisation: Pessimists, when things go wrong, tend to see them as a result of their own personal failings or shortcomings, but when things go well, they tend to dismiss the good fortune as “just getting lucky." However, when things go wrong for optimists, they are more likely to believe it was “just bad luck.” When things go well for optimists, they see it as a result of hard work."

This is so true of me, it's not funny. I can be optimistic about other people - I believe with every instinct in my body that people are fundamentally good - but I am terribly negative about myself, my life and my potential. For some unfathomable reason, I don't feel I deserve to be happy.

I don't know how difficult - or plausible - it is to change from a pessimist to an optimistic outlook. I seem to swing between them depending on my mood, my proximity to dark chocolate, and how much sleep I'm getting - but I am at least trying to notice when I have an automatic "negative" thought about something. Noticing is the first step. Challenging is the next. Beyond that, it's down to diligence and willpower to keep noticing and keep challenging, all the while working on propping up my fragile self-esteem.

It's hard work, this self-help business. It feels like so much of what goes on in my head is beyond my control - but it's my flippin' brain, after all! I own you, brain! Do my bidding! I can't shake the feeling that I should somehow be able to out-think my moods, outwit them - but could it be that a simple shift in perspective, if practised diligently, could be a smarter way to go about it?

Like I said, 2009 is going to be the year of self-development. Expect to be buried under an avalanche of introspective posts as I try to untangle the unholy mess that is Me.

* * * *

Things that are helping right now: Listening to the supremely gorgeous Fleet Foxes. Sharing in a friend's excitement. Watching Obama's victory speech. Reading Unweaving the Rainbow (reclaim that sense of wonder, Science!). Taking the first steps toward some volunteering opportunities. A sweet little film about two teenage odd-bods falling in love. The little school kid whose wide-eyed, open-mouthed face kept bobbing up comedically behind the stage floor last night.

1 comment:

Anna said...

Yes - it's hard work. But I promise you this much: if you continually work to banish the negatives from your thinking (even if in the beginning all you do is not say ANYTHING negative out loud, and every time you think something negative stop yourself and think of a positive instead), it will change.

One of the reasons I like reading your blog - and when you post things like this - is that it reminds me that I'm not the only one thinking these things.

It's hard to change your way of thinking, but it's worth it.

Believe me.

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